Category Archives: .45 ACP cartridge

The Three Ps

Want to get a fight started? Go to a gathering of gun nuts and shout, nine mil or forty-five? Immediately afterward, get behind cover.

When I was entering the gun nut forest for the first time, the writings of Col. Cooper showed me the way. He favored the M1911 in .45 ACP. Even though I have committed heresy at times, I still hold a fondness for single-action self-loaders that pitch a half ounce of lead at the gentle speed of 850 ft/sec.

The question remains, though: What caliber is the best in a handgun? Oy vey, here we go. It’s an old debate. Back in the early years of the twentieth century, the Army was embarrassed by the poor performance of its .38 Long Colt revolvers in the Philippines and wanted something better. Two fellows by the names of Thompson and LaGarde were commissioned to come up with the answer–in other words, were told to find that .45 was best. A careful reading of their study, however, shows that the data support no particular caliber as being any good out of a handgun. (The .30 Luger performed better than many other rounds, ironically.)

More recently, we keep hearing that the .22 Long Rifle is the round that kills the most people in a given year. Or perhaps it’s the woebegotten .25. So what’s a gun-toting person to choose?

Here, submitted for your consideration, are my three desiderata of cartridge and gun:

1. Placement

If the gun’s too heavy to manipulate or the recoil is so much that I develop a flinch, the thing’s useless to my purpose. There’s no miss that’s good enough, no matter how much noise it makes or how deep a hole it makes in the scenery. Now it’s no good saying that standard calibers are too hard to manage. I’m telling you that I don’t carry a .500 S&W.
Dirty Harry’s round is the one on the left.

The key here is to find something that you can put on target in a hurry. And I’m not talking ten rounds through one hole. What good does that do? You need to be able to empty a magazine or cylinder into the area covered by a sheet of typing paper or a two liter bottle in short order and at whatever distance you expect to have to defend yourself. Also, the smaller the bullet, the better your aim has to be.

2. Penetration

The FBI standard is that the bullet has to penetrate twelve inches of tissue to be good enough. That really is the minimum, since people come in all sizes and don’t always cooperate by standing at the right angle when they’re trying to kill you. These
don’t penetrate as well as these
do. Generally speaking, for small calibers–.22 LR, .25 ACP, .32 ACP, .380 ACP, and 9mm Makarov–the bullets are too light or the powder charge is too low to get enough penetration out of hollow points, presuming they even expand at the typical velocities of those rounds. By contrast, .38 Special rounds on up are heavy enough to keep on going, so expanding bullets are better–the bullet does no good once it leaves the bad guy.

Whatever your choice of handgun, the round it spits has to get in deep enough to do what needs accomplishing.

3. Punch

As I said above, the good ole .22 LR and .25 ACP hit way above their class, but that’s probably because those are common guns. I might rely on a .22, but that’s only because I know what I can do with mine. The safer answer is to go with something that’s going to do a lot of work where it’s going. Yes, an icepick can be used as an effective weapon, but your chances of success with that are far higher if you start the fight first and have trained yourself to drive the shaft exactly where you want it every time. In other words, it’s not all that useful for us good guys who aren’t going about starting animosity. We have to react to someone else’s bad choices in life, rather than picking the time and place to act.

Here’s where the 9mm vs. .45 ACP argument really gets thick in the weeds. In days gone by when semiautomatics worked best with hardball, a 9mm wasn’t such a good choice. Just like the icepick, it was small and ran in a hurry straight on through whatever it hit. But we live in interesting times, as the Chinese would say. It’s true that while hollow points don’t always expand, there ain’t no such thing as a shrinking bullet, but expansion is highly likely with today’s ammunition. This means that .38 Special, .357 Sig, .357 Magnum, .40 S&W, 10mm, .44 Special, .44 Magnum, and .45 ACP hollow points are probably going to get big enough to discourage a bad guy. Of course, little bullets also do a lot, but as I said above, the smaller the round, the smaller you’d better be able to aim.

I’ve mentioned a number of rounds in this discussion. I’m not endorsing any of them. I carry several of them and have at my disposal several others. I gravitate toward .38 Special, 9mm, and .45 ACP, but that’s just because my guns that shoot those are the easiest to carry. My Colt Pocket Hammerless is elegant, and now and then I grab my Polish copy of the PPK, but those tend to stay locked away these days.

The takeaway message here is get something that’s easy to carry and feels good in a common caliber, and you will have nothing to feel ashamed or apologetic about, so long as you’re good with it. The caliber wars are endless, and the only certain conclusion from the data about shootings is that it’s bad to get shot. The only real confidence comes from having close air support and a company of Marines at the ready. Short of that, the handgun you can operate well is likely to be good enough in an emergency.

(By the way, there are a pun and a piece of firearms history buried in this article.)

Heresy, Heresy!

Heresy in ancient Greek meant choice. The idea here is that a person chooses a belief or a course of action without reference to what some authority decides is correct. Readers of this weblog will know that in many senses, I’m a heretic. But many of you probably didn’t imagine that I’d stray from one true faith, namely the right and holy doctrine of St. Jeff of the Corps. (Jeff Cooper, for those of you not in the know.)

Hold on one minute, I hear some saying. Didn’t you already wander outside the pale by accepting a pocket 9mm as a worthy sidearm?

Well, yes, but, um, all right. I told you I’m a heretic.

Today’s heresy involves a handgun whose caliber, at least, would please Cooper. It’s a Sig Sauer P-250, chambered in .45 ACP. It’s also available in 9mm Luger, .357 Sig, and .40 Short & Weak, but more on that later.

If it shoots the sacred round, what’s the problem? It’s double-action only. There are no safeties, just about six long pounds of pressure to squeeze off a round. The trigger breaks right at the end of the line with no overtravel, and it goes all the way back to reset. If you imagine the smoothest double-action revolver, you’ll get the idea. The long reset does make a second shot slower than what a single-action trigger can give, but it’s fine for what I can do.

And what’s that? As I’ve said in other articles, I don’t care much for bull’s eye shooting. If pieces of paper take a notion to attacking me, I’ll use scissors. My practice enemy of preference is soda bottles, and those evil containers of death (or so says Mayor Bloomberg, but I drink diet) are in mortal danger if they’re within twenty yards of me while I’m armed. That’s true even with the long double-action of the Sig. Well, when I’m shooting using both hands. One-handed, I’d pull the muzzle off target a lot, but that’s a matter for more practice, not the gun’s fault. The sights are the three-dot variety, and since mine’s relatively new, they still glow in the dark.

The recoil is stiffer than my other .45s. That’s because the Sig has an all-polymer frame with a steel slide. The guts are just a light metal rectangle with some springs and other parts. In fact, those guts are the gun. That’s where the serial number is. Take out one set of guts (done by removing a single pin) and insert a different set with the matching magazine and slide, and you have a new pistol in whichever of the four calibers you want. One of these days, I’ll get myself the .357 Sig guts, since I’ve been itching to try that round for a while now.

The frame is also easy to change. I may do that sooner. I bought this gun in a pawn shop, so I didn’t have a choice in frames, but after wearing the beast for a litte bit, I realized that the sandpaper texture of the grip wasn’t going to cut it. (Scrape it, yes, but not cut.) I got after it with my own piece of sandpaper and smoothed down the surface, but I’ll leave abrasive grips to those who need them.

So what’s my heresy? I’ve been an M1911 man ever since I got into guns. My 1911 was my first self-loading pistol, and that design’s the gold standard for all others. But now, at times, I’m carrying a Sig Sauer DAO P-250 instead. It’s a bit fatter than Browning’s slim model, but it holds the same 8 + 1 rounds and slides nicely into an inside-the-waistband holster. As I told you, heresy is about choice, and I like choice.

I still don’t have a Glock, though.

Cheap Practice

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? First you buy a cheap violin and saw the hell out of it, right?

Thanks to rising commodities prices, nefarious government manipulation, increased demand, or whatnot, ammunition is expensive these days. That means that practicing shooting is harder on a budget. One answer is .22 Long Rifle, since a box of 550 still goes for under $20. But even the venerable rimfire has its limits. It’s not legal to discharge within cities, generally. My fellow home residents would likely object to me popping off rounds in-doors, anyway. What’s a cheap bastard to do?

Get a pellet gun.

Since I have a deep affection for the M1911, I bought a Crosman Stinger P311 for $15. In shape and controls, it’s a good copy of the real thing, but it uses a spring to shoot BBs, so it’s quiet and not particularly powerful–thus safe to use inside the house. (Always with eye covering, of course.) A bottle of 5,000 rounds set me back another $10 or so. For under $30, I can practice point shooting and getting the sights aligned on target quickly. Since I have to rack the slide for each shot, I also get a kind of malfunction drill. If you don’t go in for the 1911, there are plenty of other designs that have been copied–Sig Sauers and Berettas in particular. The only thing missing is recoil, but if you’ve developed a flinch, a pellet gun could be a good way to overcome it.

As with real guns, following the basic safety rules is a good idea with a pellet gun. Those pellets will punch a hole in cardboard and some other materials, and they can cause injury. But for all kinds of practice, including dry firing and drawing from concealment, the copy gives an additional layer of safety.

Cheap and safer practice–what’s not to love? Go forth, and enjoy.

One Hundred Years and Still Shooting

Today (29 march 2011), I celebrate a piece of technology.  Those who know me well may find this to be a surprise, but I have a good reason for it.  I respect designs that do a job well in an elegent manner.  Gadgets that help us to be stupid or that are needlessly complicated fail to meet that standard.

With that caveat in mind, consider the following piece of technology:

One hundred years ago today, the United States Army adopted the pistol designed by John Moses Browning (blessings be upon him) as its general issue sidearm, the M1911.  While our military has largely surrendered to the Beretta M9 these days, special forces units still use the good old Colt .45, and the Pentagon is rethinking its grotesque error.

To put this into perspective, think about the level of technology that existed at that time.  The Wright brothers were still experimenting with versions of their Flyer.  The Model T was only three years into production.  Radio transmissions were still sporatic and entirely sent in Morse code.

The idea of a self-loading handgun was only a few years old in 1911.  There were competing designs–the Luger P08, the Mauser C96, among others.  Colonel Fosbery created a self-cocking revolver that fascinates gun nuts.  Browning himself had created several designs that led up to the 1911.  As an example of this, I have a Colt 1903 Pocket Hammerless that turns a hundred this year–one of his earlier works.  What is extraordinary about the 1911 is that its design is used in most pistols that have been made since.

A full-power cartridge such as the .45 ACP requires a means of locking the barrel to the slide during part of the recoil.  Browning invented a short recoil mechanism that tilts the barrel downward after it moves back a fraction of an inch, allowing the slide to continue.  You can see an animation of the process here:

Watching that happen is a particular pleasure.  It’s simple and clever, and it works.  It controls an explosion, putting it to double useful work, sending a bullet down range and loading a new cartridge soon after.  Browning made a small change for his High Power, and in sincere flattery, most pistols today use his tilting barrel design.

So here we are, one hundred years later, with a handgun that got it right that long ago.  I have read comments about the 1911 as the last of the old cowboy guns.  It’s a .45, single-action, hammer-fired pistol, usually made of steel–in other words, it’s out of style, according to a modern view.  Some 1911s are finicky about the ammunition that they will cycle, and many of them rattle and clank.  What’s to love?

Lay hands on yours right now (and you do have one, don’t you?).  Compared to many more recent designs, it’s slim.  In an inside-the-waistband holster, it is easy to carry concealed.  It fits the hand and points nicely, just the way that the Peacemaker does, and its GI sights are easy to use for defensive (as opposed to target) shooting.  While it has been produced in other calibers, its typical load is the .45 ACP, one of the two exemplars of handgun cartridges (the other being the .357 Magnum).  Just like an old car or a radio with vacuum tubes, the 1911 is a tinkerer’s dream toy.

Yes, my reasons for loving the 1911 are mainly grounded in aesthetics.  These days, you can get a pistol with many variations in grip and frame materials, firing mechanisms, trigger function, and on and on.  But gun nuts, the people who get to know their pistols inside and out, still find their way to the 1911 eventually.

The 1911 is a work of genius.  It demonstrates that one person with talent can make a lasting mark.

Is That a Gun in Your Pocket, or Oops–It Is!

I must confess to breaking the laws of Jeff Cooper.  As you know if you’re well-versed in the Colonel’s writings (and you are, aren’t you?), the standard for judging handguns is the 1911 in .45 ACP.  (Look for a celebration of the same on the 29th of this month.)  He consistently referred to the 9mm cartridge as a minor caliber and had no use for double-action pistols.  As someone who has learned much from what Cooper taught, what am I doing with a double action nine?

Have a look at what I’m talking about:

The weapon featured is the Kel-Tec P-11.  Its trigger requires a long and somewhat heavy pull for each shot (double action only), and it spits out a bullet of .36 of an inch in diameter.

Let’s deal with the 9mm bullet first.  On a discussion board, I read that Cooper opposed the 9mm because he only dealt with the full metal jacket rounds that the military is required to use.  (The United States isn’t a signatory to the Hague Convention, but we abide by it.)  A 9mm bullet that doesn’t expand tends to zip through the target without doing much.  A hollowpoint round, on the other hand, is generally much more effective.  I don’t know what the Colonel knew about expanding bullets, having not seen him discuss the subject in his writings, but he did say that a .22 revolver could be a good self-defense handgun if shooters can put their rounds into the tear ducts of their attackers.  The conclusion that I’ve reached about caliber effectiveness is that bullets have to be placed where they will do something useful and have to be heavy enough to get in deep enough to do good work.  Expansion keeps a higher velocity or greater mass bullet from punching through.  The power of the cartridge affects how well a given shooter can control the weapon.  But the bullet has to go in deep enough where it needs to go, and if it does, it likely will do the job.  (Remember that for self defense, we’re talking about stopping an attacker, not killing someone.)

So I’ve accepted a 9mm pistol as a carry weapon.  What about its double-action trigger?  The P-11 is a pocket gun with no safety.  That being the case, it needs a trigger that is like a double-action revolver–long, weighty, but smooth–and that’s what the P-11 has.  It won’t fire when I put it in my pocket.  My complaint against Glocks is that they have a light trigger with no safety (Plaxico Burress, anyone?).  The Kel-Tec doesn’t have that problem.

Despite its weight, I can control the trigger well enough to hit targets in rapid fire within self-defense distances.  While dry-firing, I was concerned about the trigger reset–the trigger moves a long way back and has to go all the way forward again–but that wasn’t a problem at the range.  I did have one or two cases when my finger didn’t let it reset, but most of the time, the recoil is enough to take care of that.  My question with any self-defense handgun is whether I can use it to place multiple hits into a soda bottle at ten yards, and the answer for me is yes with the P-11.

So how does it shoot?  I put about two hundred rounds through it–hollowpoints, hardball rounds, American-made quality, and cheap Russian steelcased cartridges–and nothing made it stop.  The manufacturer recommends against using +P ammunition too often (higher pressure cartridges), so I haven’t those yet, but my P-11 wasn’t picky about regular rounds.  I could hit bottles rapidly, and even scored on a clay bird that Sharie, the love of my life, tossed across my field of fire for me.  (I missed two other clays, so I need to practice more.)  The sights are good, especially for a pocket gun, three white dots that are easy to pick up.

The recoil was interesting, and I say that as someone who shoots a Ruger Super Blackhawk .44 Magnum with one hand for fun.  The P-11 kicks hard.  It weighs under a pound unloaded, and even with eleven rounds on board, it’s about as light as a cellphone.  After emptying a magazine, my left hand was sore for a bit.  The temperature was in the thirties, but I’ve shot many times in that kind of weather without a similar feeling.  The closest that any other gun has come to this is my Radom P-64, about which I’ve written in the past (see the Categories column to the right).

The P-64 is a good weapon to compare to the P-11.  The Kel-Tec holds eleven rounds of 9mm Parabellum, while the Polish gun has only seven rounds of 9mm Makarov.  The P-11 is much lighter, but nearly the same size–slightly shorter (front to back), slightly fatter.  The American gun’s trigger weight is 8.5 pounds as opposed to the P-64’s factory twenty-seven pounds (seventeen, now that I put a new spring in it), and its better sights make aiming much easier.  It’s also cheap, under $300, tax included.  The one advantage that the P-64 has is a loaded chamber indicator.  It’s hard to do a brass check with the P-11, and I like being able to see that there’s a round ready to fire.

The P-11 isn’t a target gun, and it’s not nearly as easy to shoot as a service-size, single-action pistol, but it’s ideal as a pocket rocket.  I can conceal a full-sized .45 when I can wear a shirt outside my pants, but when wearing business casual, I needed something smaller, without giving up rounds or power.  (My .38 snubby is a five-shot, after all.)

Now I have to restrain myself, or I may run out an buy a PF-9. . .

A New .45

I love my CZ vz. 52 pistol.  It has a funky, steampunk design and will shoot hollowpoints and the crummiest surplus ammunition without complaint.  It also has a few faults:  a strange grip angle, a fragile firing pin, and an odd cartridge chambering (as much as I like it).  I also love my 1911, even though it’s finicky about what it eats.  Here’s my proposal for a new pistol design:  a marriage of the two.  It would have the following characteristics:

1.  the grip angle of the 1911

2.  a single stack magazine

3.  a chambering in .45 ACP

4.  the roller-lock action of the vz. 52 with the recoil spring around the barrel

5.  the single-action, lightweight trigger of the 1911

6.  a frame-mounted, ambidextrous safety that leaves the slide free to move, but locks the firing pin and hammer

7.  a grip safety with a beavertail

8.  decent, factory-installed, fixed sights

9.  a slide-lock lever

10.  a strong, positive, and reliable extractor

11.  a barrel-mounted feedramp

This design would create a pistol with a slim profile that would shoot an excellent cartridge.  The .45 ACP round could even be loaded much hotter with the stronger action.  The weapon could be loaded and checked without turning off the safety.  It would feed and extract cartridges with a variety of bullet shapes.

I won’t ask for royalties for this idea.  Just give me the first one off the assembly line, and you may manufacture and sell as many as the market will bear.